Saturday, October 2, 2010
The PHANTOM ZERO INTERVIEW
What inspired you to become 'Phantom Zero?'
A number of events inspired me to be Phantom Zero, up to and including:
A love of various bits of media. In my childhood, even my early childhood, I loved comic books and the superhero genre; I've had a life long love of theatrical make-up and costuming, more specifically, things which are based in practical special effects and things which are horror themed.
I endured and survived a particularly stressful childhood, but managed to come out of it relatively sane and stable. I still carry with me many of the positive things I had to nurture and believe in to get through: a belief that things no matter how hopeless seeming can get better, that you can endure rather than just give up, that you can and will fail--but from that failure still learn, and knowing that life is not worth living unless have the capacity to feel (even if you know that may make you vulnerable, and may get hurt). If anything, the adversity in my life bred adaptability. In particular, it made me profoundly compassionate and doggedly passionate in responding to the injustices and plights of others. It also, for better or worse, it made me different and made me stand out in many ways. I've managed to take inspiration from the source of what many consider negative experiences, and rather than use them as a source of equally negative feelings and emotions, flip their perspective, learn from them, and use them as a source of strength in my life. For example, I wouldn't be nearly as empathetic as I am now had I not personally suffered through or witnessed some horrid things. I'm drawn to help those who are going through traumatic situations because I've been though a few myself.
I've always tried to adhere to a "do-gooder" philosophy. Before I came up with the idea of Phantom Zero, I have always tried to be helpful to both friends and strangers who may have needed assistance. I've been characterized as a concerned, kind, and generous by people who know me. The roles I've played have been confidant, incidental guide, inspirational/motivational speaker, and anonymous helper. I've talked people down from engaging in self-destructive behavior, researched and referred people to professional help, and assisted more than one stranger who I came across who found themselves in a rough spot before I even knew what a real life superhero was.
Through reason, I was able to make order of the chaos that was my earlier life. It was only later in my life, during my higher education, that I could attribute meaning to what preceded. Logic and reason gave me the ability to define so much, not through sensing and supposition, or by feeling out what was right, but by rational thought. It gave me a sense of understanding and fairness which helped to temper my judgment and discretion in many ways.
The death of my father. My father died suddenly, shortly after he was diagnosed with metastatic lung cancer. He was a person who had unorthodox, unique, Quixotic ideals, a person who used charisma and improvisation to commune with people, with and while he and I were very different people, the spirit of his ideals and inspiration was passed on to me. He was a positive influence to many and he affected countless lives as both an educator and a friend. He, too, was also an exceptionally compassionate and caring person. His loss left a great void in my life, but also left me with a great legacy to uphold. Part of my motivation is a great desire to fill the role in the cosmos my father once inhabited. It is a bit tragic that he never got to see me achieve many of the things I have with the gifts he gave me. Dare I say he would be quite proud of me.
I had learned about the real life superhero community. It was just something which flashed by on cable television months before I became a real life superhero, but there the idea remained, waiting. It has piqued my interest enough and rattled around my head until one day I searched the subject online. I thought to myself: here is something interesting. I became curious about the community as a whole. So I examined it, researched it from the periphery, but after coming so far realized I’d hit a brick wall. Being a "normal" or a "civilian," especially at that time in the development of the community, my access was limited. I was unable to go further.
The catalyst moment came some time later. Ultimately, I was inspired by a person who I had come to casually know through a number of channels. This person—a good, kind person—confided they had something earth shatteringly horrible happen to them. I was shaken by the brutality of the incident, the madness in the reasoning why it happened, the denial and accusation leveled upon the victim, and the injustice of the circumstances surrounding and following it. There was absolutely nothing I could do for that one person--not to save them, or help them, or fix them, or grant them justice. It had shattered them on a profound level and the complications haunted them, and even though they had in a way come to peace with what had happened, bore the brunt of that burden alone. My heart sunk. We both broke down and we cried. My tears were tears of anguish, anger, and mourning. It was then that I had a very profound and solemn epiphany. I made a pledge to that person that night, and promised: As there is great evil and injustice in this world, I will counteract it by trying to increase the amount of good.
All of the above collided on that night of uneasy rest. After some thought, and rummaging through items I had lying around, Phantom Zero was born. I snapped photos of myself, posted them up, and made my introductions with some people who I’d all ready come to know as a civilian. After that point I started on the normal circuit of learning. My desire to help others was suited for the role of a real life superhero, though much of finding out what would and wouldn't work for me was trial and error.
How did you develop that specific persona?
I wanted something appropriately mysterious and theatrical in the mood of Gothic horror and Victoriana while also giving a nod to pulp heroes, like the Phantom Detective. A natural outcropping of that was the "Phantom," calling back to aspects the tradition I loved--everything from Lerox's rendition to Lon Cheney, Sr. to the pulp heroes that would use the name to the Phantom of the Paradise.
I love literature, myth, and Joseph Campbell's "Hero with a Thousand Faces." I don't believe in the occult or occult practices, but have an interest in the symbolic meaning therein. In Tarot, there is something known as "The Fool's Journey"--which is a metaphor for a person's transition through life and the learning process. We start from nothing, literally from zero, and its where all journeys begin. Its at that spontaneous point of absolute nothing I started, thus the "Zero" part.
Phantoms--being insubstantial. Zero--being nothing. Overarching and bridging those two concepts was that of complete and total anonymity—something which I have retained as a staple of my identity (or non-identity, as it is). From nothing to nothing. I eventually evolved the costume from its more pulpish “Mysterious Stranger” look into its more current “Skull Mask” forms, and it is still evolving along with me.
What philosophy do you follow as an RLSH?
I don't think I follow any particular "real life superhero" philosophy. The concept of being a real life superhero is more of a nebulous self-ascribed broad stroke, or to better call it, a floating signifier. I don't consider myself (or that viewpoint) a standard or role model in the community—especially now.
I consider good sense, sound judgment, and practicality to be of the utmost importance. I think all activities real life superheroes engage in should be legal, safe, and sensible. I stress pro-social activities which are accessible to your average citizen.
Part of being a real life superhero is having the ability to send a message with a powerful efficacy, but the medium is also the message. Real life superheroes exist as a challenge to the apathy, banality, complacency, and mediocrity commonplace in the hum drum status quo of blind, repetitive worker bee every day life. They make people question the reality they live in. By being, they inform and educate individuals as to their own untapped potential in a world of unchecked possibilities.
I believe the greatest personal reward one can glean from being a real life superhero is taking the journey; finding one's own path and one's own truth. Breaking free from the negativity of "can not" and "nevers," gazing upward and onward towards better and brighter things.
As a personal philosophy, I support freethought, individual rights, and personal responsibility. I eschew collectivism and exploitation.
You created one of (if not the) most watched videos relating to rlshs, a video where you call on people to make videos introducing themselves. Let's talk about that "era." What was the RLSH scene like? How was it different than today?
Its post-Terrifica, post Super Barrio, and post-Heroes Collation, so I wasn't one of the first in that antediluvian age. I came in during the era before the mass media blitz. Before Watchmen, before Kick Ass, before the offers of reality television shows, documentaries, and major news coverage. Few people knew what a real life superhero was.
The community existed as a sand box. It was shielded from the outside world. It was, for the most part, an small community corresponding on line--unlike now, where it is very open.
A lot of people of that previous generation wanted it to stay that way. Some of them only thought about the world inside that sandbox box. There are those who did, and still do, live a healthy (unhealthy?) chunk of their life in that box. It always struck me as strange that some real life superheroes, part of the world, proclaimed world changers themselves, weren't thinking outside that box. Even while people were taking potshots at the community, the box-thinkers were adamantly against any action to deter detractors or sway opinions in a more positive direction.
(And, yes, I understand some people consider themselves vigilantes, and want to keep their shadowy alter egos out of the public eye--but when you are a member of a public message board and you have a MySpace profile talking about your psedo-legal escapades in your own personal Punisher War Journal, ask yourself--would Batman want or even need a MySpace page? Would a vigilante even want to dress up like a bat, or a mongoose, or wear a cape--and then announce it to a group of individuals they know nothing about in a forum where security is, at best, lax? Would they congregate in the most obvious, easy access locale, under a banner that announces "Hey! I'm the scourge of all evil! RIGHT HERE! Captain Bob! I patrol Downtown Burbank!" risking everything to hang out with their online buddies?)
Another part of my motivation was to debunk the emergence of poser real life superheroes. There were people who were just full of it--arm chair misanthrope net-trolls with an over abundance of time who were making outrageous claims which stretched the limits of possibility and probability. It was a very self-serving, parasitic thing to do: bottom feeding off of trusting, good, very genuine, very real people. Being very anti-social, and exemplifying antihero ideals, while at the same time not having the spine or spirit to be anything remotely real, pro-social, or heroic at all. The only real thing they'd do would be to set bad examples and make claims which destroyed credibility for those who were actually real.
There was a world of ideas, a mass of potential. There was a newness to it. It was an unexplored continent, plentiful with natural resources. There were people, inspirations, who had walked the walk, found their own truth. And here, on the horizon, was media interest, lumping together the former ideologues with the latter poseurs.
I felt that individuals needed to be heard. And they needed a platform they could do it on. On their own terms. Self-generated media is the only type of media over which someone has complete and total creative control. Some place they could represent themselves. It was a very fluid time. I felt if we let the media, or a select few motivated individuals with misplaced intentions, do it for us, they could take it in whatever direction. Make it a total lark or goof-ball piece (like most had). Probably crash it into the ground and cause it irreparable harm.
Results were mixed. Some videos were humorous and obviously fake. Some were real and radiated honesty. I felt, either way, the viewer could decide, with evidence given, truth from fiction. The viewer could also absorb the full spectrum of what the community had to offer, distilled, enough to pique interest and stoke hunger for more knowledge about a growing idea. Whether to support or critique it, I wanted the viewer to step away from the experience feeling a bit more informed, rather than just making a sweeping generalization without even looking at the content they were condemning.
Many people responded to the video and it inspired more to find out more and has been viewed by more than 100,000 people. Did you expect such a reaction? Did you expect the video to live on as it has?
I absolutely expected such a reaction. I just hoped it served the citizens who carry the banner of real life superhero (or what have you). I hope I did my part to help make it entertaining, interesting, and informative. While I harbor a slight guilty conscience, as the video promotes something I am a part of, (though I tried to act in the role of a master of ceremonies, the video promoted the community and concept of real life superheroes, and by proxy, myself, which may be considered an ethical breech), I think it did its job.
While I feel the idea still has merit, the video has lost much of its momentum in the wake of coverage with greater popularity and wider scope. Its lost much of its relevance, now that the concept of a real life superhero has been fictionalize and regurgitated, serving now more of a snapshot of a more innocent, more ignorant place and time. While it is a living thing, a chronicle of that time, it is also a dying thing. It exists only on the whim of its contributors. It has suffered from entropy, as the content, voluntarily given, can also be voluntarily taken out of that stream. (And that, I feel, is the most beautiful thing about it—the ability of the individual to self-promote and the control their own active participation or non-participation, not bound to the whim of others.)
What are some highlights as your life as Phantom Zero?
Trying my hardest to keep my promises to people who have trusted me.
Many of the best things I've done as a person (let alone as a real life superhero) I can't talk about in any detail. They aren't my confidences to break. They were only burdens that were shared with me for the slightest moments of time. Most of the time, it not even being myself who changed someone's life, but encouraging someone to break out of a bad cycle of behavior, or to leave a bad situation, or to hold out another night, or to seek out help. For me, its just time. Its me listening to them, asking questions, offering suggestions, or doing research. Giving them just enough so that they realize there is another way, that there is hope. Just knowing I was there, that I might have made a difference, is the greatest achievement. And all it took from me was being a decent human being.
I guess I feel a bit validated that one person can make a difference, even if its just one person at a time.
What do you see for the future of Phantom Zero? What things would you
like to try to achieve or develop?
I only consider this the very first step. Literally, my longevity permitting, this is only the beginning of my journey. But I can't know the future. I can only try to anticipate as best I can and be prepared for what is to come. I never thought I'd reach the place I am now, for example—but I never discounted it.
I've written before on the stage of development of a real life superhero where, much like Campbell's hero, "they may freely walk in both the mundane and special worlds." The challenge is balancing the many aspects of RLSH and my mundane identity, and find some kind of middle path, some equilibrium, so I can maintain both my lifestyles while retaining and purifying the essence of both. I wouldn't want to change so much in any direction that would invalidate the reasons I started doing this to begin with.
I think the greatest achievement/development I'd like to see, if you would pardon the cliché, would be in myself. (An oft credited statement Ghandi once made: “Be the change that you want to see in the world.”) I hope to continue to expand my base of experience and knowledge and develop the part of me which is represented as Phantom Zero. I know I'd love to live in a world where I could truly embrace, exhibit, and act as a paragon of all the virtues which I consider exemplary, where I could continue to overcome and sublimate all the shadows dwelling in my heart and lurking in my mind, and in doing such continue becoming a more complete, perfect, self-actualized person.
I'd also like to note: I'm still trying to figure all this out. There is no absolute authority, perfect path, or right way to be a real life superhero (though, in my opinion, there are an abundance of opinions, paths people have tread before that have experienced to be flawed, and wrong ways to do things). I'm still a work in progress.
That said, I've recently been approached by a number of curious individuals. I'm all ready helping others start on the path of being real life super heroes. I'm eager to see whether they will truly enjoy it and how they will grow and develop, and what they themselves will have to contribute.
I'm willing to learn what they are willing to teach me.